Deja' Vu all over Again

Ten years ago the Tennessee Vols came to Gainesville with a senior quarterback in search of his first SEC Title. The Gators, on the other hand were breaking in a new starting quarterback after losing a guy who had started most of the last four years.

The Vols had not won the conference in years, while the 1997 Gators were defending champs (four times) who were rebuilding after winning the national title as well.

The scenario is pretty much this same this Saturday as Eric Ainge plays the part of Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow serves as Doug Johnson and the Gators and Vols get set for a game that will pretty much set the tone for the SEC Eastern Division race. Of course it bears mentioning that while Tennessee came up short that day, Manning and the Vols did end up as SEC Champs. So while this weekend's game is important, it won't clinch a thing for the winner or ruin the season for the loser.

Remembering ‘97

The 1997 Florida/Tennessee game was an entertaining and competitive one, but it did not provide much in the way of drama. The Gators scored first, just five minutes into the game when Johnson hit Jamie Richardson for an 11-yard touchdown. The Vols then began a long drive that appeared to set the stage for a tying score late in the opening quarter. Instead, it set the stage for one of the most memorable defensive plays in the '90s.

Manning dropped back to pass deep in Florida territory, but he rushed his throw down the middle because pressure was coming from defensive tackle Ed Chester. Gator safety Tony George grabbed the errant toss at the eleven yard line and headed towards the Florida (West) sideline. Around the 25 or so, it appeared George was headed out of bounds, but the junior from Cincinnati turned up field and raced all the way to the end zone completing an 88-yard return. George had given the Gators a two touchdown lead with 15 seconds left in the opening quarter, and Tennessee never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

After the game, George downplayed his accomplishment.

"I think it pretty much set the tempo," George said. "The coaches made a great call. We fell into a zone and it just happened to be overthrown."

Manning ended up throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns, but had another interception as well. The loss to the Gators, as I mentioned did not cost the Vols the SEC Title, but it unquestionably cost Manning the Heisman, which he lost in a very close vote to Michigan's Charles Woodson.

For the Gators there were many heroes that day. In addition to George, Johnson passed for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Jacquez Green caught eight passes for 185 yards and one of those touchdowns. Fred Taylor gave Florida a big advantage in the running game with 134 yards on 17 carries. It helped offset Johnson's ridiculous minus-63 on the ground. Taras Ross caught a touchdown passes and Collins Cooper made two field goals. He would make it up to the Vols the following season.

The '97 Florida/Tennessee makes just the 10th loss for Vols Head Coach Phillip Fulmer but the fifth at the hands of the Gators. At the time it appeared to set the Gators up for a sixth SEC East Title in a row, but losses to LSU and Georgia opened the door for the Vols to get to Atlanta instead.

So ten years later, the Vols face a similar dynamic in The Swamp. We'll know if the outcome is the same in a few days. We won't know if the end result is the same for several weeks to come.

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